Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus of Nazareth
In December the world celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ and in January the world will celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But many don’t know that although the two men were separated by 2000 years, Jesus of Nazareth and Martin Luther King Jr. lived similar lives. Both men represented oppressed peoples.
Both stood up to unlimited power. Both preached peace and love. Both were killed. The careers and ministries of Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. both represented a non-violent liberation movement which led to their violent deaths.
Jesus of Nazareth attacked the Jewish Temple and attempted to bring in outsiders. He reached out to lepers, prostitutes, the poor and other outsiders.
Jewish religious leaders looked down on the people Jesus appealed to. Additionally, if Christ united the outsiders, the Temple’s power might have collapsed. That made him a threat and subversive.
As Christ tried to mainstream outsiders of his time, Dr. King represented America’s oppressed.
African-Americans became second class citizens during the late seventeenth century and never regained the rights and privileges enjoyed by some of the first Africans to come to America.
By the time of the Brown decision outlawing segregation, blacks had experienced nearly two centuries of slavery and an additional century of Jim Crow.
King’s crusade made him dangerous and subversive. Many whites opposed King’s efforts because of racism, fear of job competition, and other assorted fears.
By the time of his death, King looked to expand the movement to the poor which brought him into conflict with the middle class.
To achieve their goal of inclusion, both Christ and King used non-violence to promote their beliefs.
Christ preached love thy neighbor. He disappointed first century Jewish revolutionaries. They believed in a fire and brimstone messiah. They expected someone like Spartacus as opposed to someone like Gandhi.
As with Christ, King disappointed some Black radicals. By the time of the March on Washington, cracks began appearing in the Civil Rights Movement.
Radicals wanted to indict and attack white America. By the time of King’s death, these radicals engaged in violence as opposed to King’s non-violent protest.
To his credit, King refused to abandon his policy of boycotts, marches, and other varieties of non-violent protest.
In addition to being peaceful men, both Christ and King could move people with words.
Both gifted orators delivered speeches, or sermons, which have motivated and inspired, and will survive the ages.
Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” is probably a collection of Jesus’ speeches spliced together for dramatic effect.
Although it is unlikely that the address was delivered as recorded, it does not denigrate the message nor the apparent ability of Christ to inspire.
He had to have great oratorical skills as he spoke of the oneness of heaven. Unfortunately, recording technology did not exist in the first century A.D.
Unlike Jesus, recordings of King survive. He was a dynamic and charismatic speaker. His “I Have a Dream” speech is the greatest address of the twentieth century.
It presents a uniquely American vision and is quoted to this day. It speaks of inclusion and the oneness of America as opposed to separation.
Both men used their oratorical skills on the eve of their deaths. Jesus held a last supper. There he spoke of his blood and flesh. Apparently, he also knew of his impending arrest and its meaning. Arrest meant death.
Two millennia later, King delivered his last speech during a raging thunderstorm. The “Mountaintop” speech predicted his early death, but also equality.
In every real sense, he foresaw the election of Barack Obama.
Like Christ at the Last Supper, King knew he was a dead man. Unlike King, Jesus was not assassinated. He was executed for treason. The Romans thought he might have been another Spartacus.
Christ appealed to society’s outcasts, played the role of messiah, and even disrupted the money changers at the Temple. As a result, he received a traitor’s death on the cross.
While Christ was executed, King was assassinated. The day after the “Mountaintop” speech, James Earl Ray shot and killed King.
Ray attempted to flee to white South Africa. After his arrest, Ray pleads guilty to avoid the death penalty. He died in prison.
After his death, the Jesus movement turned their rabbi into a god. Ironically, they copied the Roman model.
After Caesar’s death, his heir, Augustus, saw a comet and claimed it was Caesar’s soul.
He declared the former Roman dictator a god. This made Augustus the son of a god.
The early Christians followed suit. They created a resurrection story which served as the comet and Jesus became the son of God.
King did not become a god, but he did enter the American pantheon. This is as close to deification as an American can come.
He also became a Christian martyr to a number of churches. Like Jesus, King even has his own holidays.
While Christ has Christmas, the U.S. made King’s birthday a national holiday. While Christ has Easter, the Episcopal Church of the United States has a feast day in King’s honor.
Although separated by two millennia, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ had similar careers and lives.
Both men tried to mainstream the outsider. Both used their oratorical gifts to push their agendas. Both preached non-violence and knew they would die young. After their deaths, both were deified.
A man’s body dies but his spirit lives forever! Case in point, Jesus and Martin knew their purpose in life and it was not for their happiness but to be useful and to make a difference in the world and the lives of other people!
God gives us all a certain talent and how we use that talent speaks to how we serve God. See God doesn’t pick you unless he equips you! God has a purpose for your pain, a reason for your struggle and a reward for your faithfulness so don’t give up!